Monday, December 22, 2014

Why I don't feel bad for Pluto

Planets and demiplanets and the whichness of why

In 1596, Johannes Kepler wrote, “Inter Jovem et Martem interposui planetam.”

Translated into contemporary English, “There’s gotta be a planet between Jupiter and Mars that we haven’t seen/discovered yet.”

Johnny said that because the math demanded a planet-sized mass there which was affecting the orbits of the other planets. As it turned out, there was a planetary-sized mass there, it just wasn’t all in one big piece. It was a zillion asteroids (actually about 200 larger than 60 miles in diameter, about 40K known), the largest of which was named Ceres when it was discovered. Ceres’ mean radius is about 300 miles which, by current definitions, qualifies it as a dwarf planet, like Pluto. Speaking of Pluto…

In the same way that Johnny K. knew that the math required there to be a planetary mass between Jupiter and Mars, math also demanded a planetary mass out beyond Uranus. In 1930, Clyde Tombaugh discovered Pluto and astronomers decided that Pluto must be “it”. Their ability to determine specifics about Pluto in those days was not very sophisticated and as the years passed and instrumentation improved, doubt about Pluto’s status seeped in. It was not nearly massive enough to be the “planet” (gravitational mass) astronomers were looking for out there.

Imagine if Johnny K. had seen Ceres in his primitive telescope. Perhaps Ceres would have been called “Phaeton,” the planet between Jupiter and Mars, for a lot of years until careful observation determined that it wasn’t big enough to be what they were looking for. AAMOF, in 1801 the astronomer Giuseppe Piazzi did indeed discover Ceres and declared it that “missing” planet. Piazzi called it “Ceres,” other tried to stick their name(s) on it: Hera, Demeter, and of course the generic Phaeton. It was indeed considered a planet for a while, until more precise observation revealed its more-accurate status as one smallish object among many. That’s parallel to what happened with Pluto. Ultimately, astronomers knew that Pluto wasn’t adequate to be what they were seeking.

Nowadays, we know that Pluto is merely one object in the Kuiper Belt (a formation similar to the Asteroid Belt) and it’s not even the biggest object there. For instance, Eris is about 30% bigger than Pluto. This doesn’t make me feel bad for Pluto, personally. I think it’s nice that Pluto is not alone out there in the deep black. He is surrounded by dark companions. And the entire Kuiper Belt is not alone out there, either. The Oort Cloud lies beyond even the distant Kuiper Belt at the far edge of the Solar System, the leaping-off point to interstellar space.

I think that’s pretty cool.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Christmas 2014

There's a tree at Cadaver Gap on Rainier!

That is, there's a Christmas tree at our house (called Cadaver Gap) on Rainier Ave. Almost the same thing.


Remembering Willi Unsoeld, who was an unschooler in spirit, who died in an avalanche on his way down from Cadaver Gap in '79. RIP, Willi Unsoeld.

I made my first attempt on Rainier in '78. We climbed to Camp Muir in shorts and T-shirts on a perfect Summer day. We went to sleep and woke at midnight to make a summit assault only to face hurricane force gusts and whiteout conditions. No summit attempt when it's like that. We descended after breakfast time the next morning in a whiteout blizzard. That was the days before Gore-Tex was readily available and we wore 60/40 parkas. Miserable. My guide/leader on that climb was Chris Kerrebrock who died on Denali in '81 while climbing with Jim Wickwire, practicing for an '82 Everest expedition. RIP, Chris Kerrebrock.

10 years later in '88, as a mutual 40th birthday present for my friend Bob and me, we made an attempt from the Sunrise side with some friends from the '84 Everest Ultima Thule expedition. Beautiful, and nobody else was on that side. Excellent. That was in August and sleeping in our bivisacks at high camp that night, we were kept awake by the Perseid meteor shower. So beautiful. The next day going up the Emmons glacier (biggest glacier in the continental US) my local friend (not Bob), who had been to Everest, had his back go out and we abandoned the summit attempt to get him back down and home. Mt. Rainier has about 40 square miles of glaciers - two dozen active and a dozen more which are static. It's incredibly beautiful. And deadly.

 But this is a Christmas post, not a mountaineering one.
This is a year of significant change for us. As long as Ronnie and I have been together, and for the girls’ entire lives, we’ve spent Christmas Eve at grandma’s house. Not this year. Arbitrary pseudoChristmas there on a different day because of logistics complications. Both girls have significant boyfriends, adding to the fun but also adding to the logistics. Both girls finish their AA requirements at community college this month and will be transferring to the University of Washington (Go, Huskies!) as juniors, starting January 5, 2015.
From unschooling to university juniors with 3.9+ GPAs. What a pair of offspring we have!
Ronnie is still slaving away with the group she’s been with for a long time. MJ is working parttime as a bartender at a (golf) sportsbar. Yes, indoor video golf is (apparently) a big thing in the drizzly, grey Northwest. Who knew? This Summer, Chloe decided she wanted to try kendo, having watched me a few times a decade or so ago when I had started. We’ve been doing it together since then and competed in our first tournament together in November. She and I were even on the dojo team for the team competition!
Ronnie not at work
MJ not a work
Chloe in kendo gear
Me, dinner on Grand Cayman, Summer 2014
We are all healthy (in my case, healthy enough, despite old age crap, and I’ve even pared down from a high of 185 a coupla years ago to a svelte – kind of – 150ish), and content, and we’re moving forward with positive anticipation toward 2015.

Hope this season finds you and yours equally content!
P.S. Chloe will (temporarily) transfer her kendo allegiance to the University of Washington Kendo Club but will still practice (SOMETIMES!) with our Everett Kendo and Iaido Club. It's cool. It's all PNKF.